“Alpha-Geek” Tim Ferriss’ Advice on How to Take Notes

In 2007, Tim Ferriss delivered a masterclass on “simple but effective note-taking.” Here are the takeaways from it and an even more in-depth follow-up.
Matthew Ritchie
January 26, 2023
7 minute read

Long before he was a New York Times best-selling author and the host of chart-topping podcast “The Tim Ferriss Show,” Tim Ferriss was doing what a lot of ambitious twenty-something entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley area were doing: he was blogging.

It would be a few years before the one-time nutritional supplement salesman-turned-productivity guru would become a household name for deconstructing the tactics, routines, and experiences of some of the world’s top performers. 

But, fresh off a turning point speaking opportunity at SXSW and the release of his first-ever book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferriss was already evangelizing on his blog about the habits and strategies that were soon to make him a success.

One of them was note-taking.

“I take notes like some people take drugs,” he writes in one of the many how-tos that appeared on his blog in 2007.

A self-described hypergraphic (aka someone with an overwhelming urge or compulsion to write), the then 30-year-old claimed he had an eight-foot stretch of space on his bookshelves devoted exclusively to personal notebooks and journals.

“Note taking,” he says, “is—in my experience—one of the most important skills for converting excessive information into precise action and follow-up.”

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According to Ferriss, the art of “simple but effective note-taking” helps him:

  • Review book highlights in less than 10 minutes
  • Connect scattered notes on a single theme in 10 minutes that would otherwise require dozens of hours [of work]
  • Impose structure on information for increased retention and recall

And as he explains in a follow-up YouTube video in 2020, note-taking helps him clarify his thoughts and emotions, reduce anxiety, improve focus, and perform better in his work and personal life.

Despite writing “how to take notes like an alpha-geek” 15 years ago, much of Ferriss’ advice is still relevant today.

Here are his recommendations from “inside the world of a compulsive note-taker” on how to take better notes.

Follow them, and maybe you too can learn any language in three months, how to speed read, or, if you’re feeling really feisty, successfully research strategies to reach the goal weight for your next UFC fight.

How to Journal and Take Notes like Tim Ferriss

1. Make Your Notes Easy to Find

“Information is useful only to the extent that you can find it when you need it,” Ferriss writes.

But, he points out that many people suffer from “note proliferation”: when an important thought, reminder, or idea comes to mind, people will often hastily scribble down a note on anything—“the backs of envelopes, billing statements, hotel paper, etc.”—with no real system in place to house or organize them.

That’s where consolidation comes in.

Ferriss recommends creating an index—either at the front of a notebook or in a book you’re reading—where you can highlight noteworthy topics and mark down their corresponding pages. That way, you can quickly “refer back and review key concepts in 5-10 minutes.”

At the time of his writing, Ferriss used a traditional notebook, hand-numbering “30 pages at a time, as needed” to create a framework for his index. But you could do a similar thing using a tagging system in a digital note-taking app to help you organize, find, and scan through notes way faster.

2. Choose the Right Tool for the Job

“Not all notepads are created equal,” Ferriss writes. “You should match the form factor and durability of a notepad to the content.”

In 2007, that meant a lot of notebooks of various sizes and weights for Ferriss:

  • A big notebook with graph paper for larger projects (like future books, TV programs, feature-length articles, and conference panel notes)
  • A hard-backed, “perfect fits-in-ass-pocket checkbook size” notebook for telephone interview notes, lists, random observations, ideas, and projects that take less than three hours to complete
  • A flexible softcover Moleskine for interviews out in the field, capturing people’s contact info, and “temporary to-do lists” (although he points out these kinds of notebooks are the most likely to get “ripped to pieces in backpacks, luggage, and pockets over just a few weeks”)

In 2020, Ferriss was still using a similar analog system, despite becoming a strategic advisor to Evernote (remember them) in 2010 and using the app for all his “note-taking, decluttering, research, and more”. But the reasoning can apply to both traditional paper and digital notebooks.

For Ferriss, note-taking can serve many purposes—from digesting information and brainstorming to improving focus, execution, and appreciation to acting as a “spiritual windshield wiper” for the mind.

But it all begins with choosing the proper pad (or app) for the job. 

For some, a simple note-taking app will do. Others may want something more complex. But the purpose ultimately defines which medium or method you choose.

3. Regularly Revisit and Filter Your Notes

Knowing what to write down is often as important as writing anything at all. But too many long-winded notes can make it difficult to find, understand, and retain what you’ve written down.

“You need a systematic way of filtering the best stuff to the top,” he says.

That’s why Ferriss suggests regularly revisiting your notes. 

In his 2020 video on note-taking and journaling, Ferriss has a simple strategy for ensuring your notes only contain the information you need to know about:

Look over your notes, and ask yourself, “what did I think was important or cool” that “isn’t that important or cool?”

Doing so will help ensure you only select and distill “the absolute best” information worth remembering.

The Simple Path to Note-Taking Like a Pro

A lot has changed in Tim Ferriss’ life since 2007. But one thing that hasn’t is why he does what he does.

“All of my books, all of my podcast episodes are personal,” he told GQ in 2020. “I'm trying to figure something out, or I'm trying to learn more about something, or I'm trying to achieve a goal or remove a pain.”

For that, he turns to writing, note-taking, and journaling.

As Ferriss has described over the years, note-taking can take many forms and serve many purposes. 

It all starts with what you use.

Click here to get early access to our next-generation note-taking app, and visit our blog for more insights on how today’s business leaders and leading thinkers take notes.

(Photo Credit: Tim Ferriss, Flickr)

Whether you’re a sales superstar, in-demand consultant, busy recruiter, or someone who simply needs to schedule a lot of meetings, one thing’s for sure—you’ve probably booked a lot of them over the past two years.

Hybrid work has forced the majority of our meetings online, and while we appreciate being able to wear sweatpants during normal work hours, the time-consuming ballet that is sharing your availability, finding a time to meet, and adding it to your calendar isn’t quite as enjoyable. 

Speaking with everyone from solopreneurs to seasoned professionals, it seems like a lot of people find meeting scheduling software either costly, impersonal, or just plain boring. And Calendly and other alternatives don’t always cut it.

We hear you. 

Everyone is different, and so is how they work. Making good first impressions is important, and you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them or basic customizations and integrations with your meeting booking system.

Nook Calendar’s meeting proposal feature is already used by tons of high-performing teams for selecting and proposing meeting times outside of their organization. 

Now, we’re making things even easier by letting you build personal pages with shareable calendar-booking links, right in Nook Calendar. Add them to your LinkedIn profile, email signature, website, or messages when finding a time to meet.

We think it’s the best meeting scheduling software out there, and we’re excited for you to give it a try, so let’s get started.

Here’s How to Set Up a Personal Booking Page in Nook Calendar

First off, if you’re new to Nook Calendar—hello! (If you’re already a Nook user, you can skip ahead.)

You’re going to start by syncing your calendar—either from Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook—and entering your work email address.

Once you approve any necessary permissions, you’ll set up your People Bar. Search for any connections and add the people you interact with the most when scheduling meetings.

From there, you can add any additional calendars you want to see (add your personal one, if you like, to further prevent any overlaps when scheduling meetings), integrate with Zoom (so you can launch calls straight from your calendar), and choose your preferred display setting—select Match OS, Light Mode, or Dark Mode.

Launch Nook Calendar, and you’re ready to set up your online meeting scheduler.

Now, the fun begins

You’re going to start by claiming your unique URL for sharing your meeting availability page. 

Your first name appears by default, but really, it can be anything. We recommend using your full name (e.g., /john-smith).

(You can always change your URL in the future, as long as it’s still available.)

From there, you want to complete your profile. 

Your profile pic is automatically pulled in from your Microsoft or GCal account.

But you can add your name, job title, welcome message, and links to social media profiles or professional website, so guests know a bit more about you when booking a meeting. 

Then, you can start setting your weekly availability.

Nook Calendar defaults to traditional time blocks—9–12 a.m. and 1–5 p.m. These are the hours someone can book a meeting from your personal page. Adjust them based on your availability. 

Your timezone is automatically set to your local time, but you can change it if you primarily work with people in a different timezone and it’s better to visualize that when setting your availability.

Choose which calendar you want to accept meetings in—it can only be booked in one, but Nook Calendar will automatically reference your availability in other calendars you’ve synced to prevent double-bookings when someone schedules a meeting.

Now, it’s time to set up some paramaters. 

You can set up your preferred meeting duration in either 15, 30, 45-minute or one-hour increments (or a custom time).

You can also add buffer time to give yourself a break between meetings, or set a lead time of up to 24 hours, so no one can book any last-minute meetings.

And you’re all set! You can preview what the page will look like, then share it with contacts or add it to your LinkedIn profile (we suggest adding it as a secondary URL), email signature, and anywhere else you do business.

Once someone books time in your calendar, you’ll receive an email and get a notification in the Pulse.

If you ever need to make any changes, you can access your personal meeting page in the bottom of the Magic Panel and make any adjustments—either to your weekly availability or personal information.

You can also remove your availability by simply creating events in Nook Calendar and marking them as Busy to block off time and prevent any bookings.

Nook Calendar’s new personal pages for sharing meeting availability are available on Web, iOS, and Android. 
If you have any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them. Hit us up in our Slack Community or contact us through Support.